Bolognesi, M. C., dos Santos Gauy, A. C., Gonçalves-de-Freitas, E. 2019. Tactile stimulation reduces aggressiveness but does not lower stress in a territorial fish. Scientific Reports 9, 40.
Body tactile stimulation has a positive effect upon highly social animals, such as mammals and cleaner-client coral-reef fish, by relieving stress and improving health. Conversely, some tactile contacts are naturally detrimental, such as those resulted from aggressive interactions. To study whether positive responses from tactile stimulation are generalized among vertebrates, we tested its effect on stress response and aggressive behavior in a territorial fish species, Nile tilapia. We developed an apparatus made of a row of sticks bordered by silicone bristles that was positioned in the middle of the aquarium, and through which fish had to pass to access food, thus receiving tactile stimulation. Isolated fish experienced tactile stimulation for 7 days, and were assigned to 2 types of stressors: non-social (confinement) or social (aggressive interaction). Each of them had a corresponding control treatment without tactile stimulation. Although fish spontaneously crossed the apparatus, we did not observe a decrease in plasma cortisol levels immediately after stressor application as a response to the use of the apparatus, either for social or non-social treatment. However, tactile stimulation reduced aggressive interaction in the social treatment, showing a positive effect on a territorial fish species, and pointing to a way to improve welfare.